The Mystery Woman in Room Three is a serialized young adult novel by Aya de León about two undocumented teenage girls in Florida who uncover a kidnapping plot to stop important climate legislation. This is the sixth and final part.
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I CAN’T RAISE MY EYES to Mr. Howell glowering above me as I stand behind the senator in the wheelchair. My grip slackens on the handles. Do we just let him take her? I can’t even look up at any of my friends.
Which is why I see the moment when Senator Samuelson rouses herself and sits up. “Who on Earth is this man?” she asks from the wheelchair.
I can’t speak. Can’t even get my mouth to open.
“Mr. Howell,” Davion says. “He’s a teacher at our school.”
“Mr. Howell,” she says with a contempt I’ve yet to see from her. “You are everything wrong with journalism these days. These heroic young people have risked their lives for a greater cause. One that will affect all of humanity. And all you can think about is yourself. I have been kidnapped, held against my will for weeks. And as far as I’m concerned, you are now continuing to obstruct my flight to freedom. So get the hell out of our way. And I won’t press charges as an accessory after the fact for kidnapping, conspiracy, and God knows what else.”
“Senator—” Mr. Howell begins, but she cuts him off.
“I don’t know what the law has to say about teachers using confidential information to get students to manipulate them into obedience, but I assure you it can’t be good. If anyone should be worried about legal action here, it ought to be you, sir.”
Even though she’s a frail old lady, she doesn’t blink. Mr. Howell swallows, and steps out of the way.
The moment we wheel past Mr. Howell, the senator’s eyes droop.
“Your rideshare is waiting,” Heidi says on the earbuds. “The blue Prius. Where should I tell her to drop you off?”
My heart is still banging against my ribs, but I try to pull myself together. “The Miami airport,” I say quietly. “And make sure there will be a medic. The senator is really faint.”
“Are we all going?” Davion asks. “Should we loop back and get Heidi?”
“No,” I say. “The senator needs to go straight to the airport.”
“Can I interview her on the way?” Davion asks. “If she’s up to it.”
“Definitely,” I say. “Amandys, can you go and give Davion all the background? I’ll go back for Heidi.”
“If there’s any trouble, we’ll double back,” Amandys says in Spanish.
I squeeze her hand, and then they pile into the back of the Prius and speed off.
“These heroic young people have risked their lives for a greater cause. One that will affect all of humanity. And all you can think about is yourself.”
I’m jogging back to Shady Orchards, pushing an empty wheelchair. Davion signs off and ends the call that connects all of us. He needs to use his phone to record his interview with the senator.
I call Heidi. “Hey girl,” I say. “You were amazing! Sunrise pulled it off.”
“I figured as much from what I could hear,” she says. “What happened?”
I start recounting it for her. I’ve gotten to the part where I’m trying to wheel the senator across the grass when I suddenly hear yelling in the background on her end.
I feel a clench in my gut and start running toward the senior facility, pushing the wheelchair fast down the paved path.
“I told you,” a woman’s voice says in Spanish. “The patient is right there.”
“Why are these lights off?” another female voice asks sharply.
I can’t hear the moment that they switch the lights on in the room, only the sound of the two women gasping.
“Who are you?” one of the women’s voices demands in English. It’s louder than before. I don’t know if she’s just closer to the phone or practically yelling.
Heidi stays silent.
“I’m calling the police,” one of the women says.
“No,” the other one says. “There’s a particular officer who we’ve been working with. I have his card. We need to call him directly.”
I think about the cop Amandys saw that first day. A crooked cop who’s in on the plot.
The lawn is empty now without the Sunrisers. I burst through the doors of Shady Orchards.
This time, I don’t even try to be stealthy. I leave the wheelchair just inside the door without slowing down.
“Hey!” someone yells behind me.
I just ignore them and run down the hallway, fishing in my pocket for the key to Room Three.
“This is a private facility,” the voice behind me yells. “You can’t—”
I open the door with the key and lock it behind me. Two nurses are standing on either side of Heidi, holding her arms. Heidi’s body is completely limp, like she’s fainted. Have they sedated her?
“Heidi!” I yell.
She winks at me. The next thing I know, she stands tall and elbows the nurses off her. She might not have been able to do it if she had been standing up initially, but the nurses are accustomed to holding her body weight, and when she stands up, it puts them off balance.
She still has the monitor clipped to her finger and when she twists away, she puts it up to unclip it. I can’t tell if she’s giving them the finger on purpose or not.
I unlock the door, and Heidi tears out after me.
On the way out, we crash into the guy who came up behind me—he turns out to be a security guard—and we basically run him down.
We sprint down the hallway and out the front door. Heidi takes off the hospital gown and lets it fall behind her. The two of us run down the street, but the security guard is after us.
“How do we get away from him?” I ask. “Can you call another rideshare?”
“My bike!” Heidi says.
We run down to the bus stop. The guard is not in as good a shape as we are, so he’s nearly a block behind us.
Heidi already has her keys out and is opening the lock.
“Hold this,” she says, handing me the U-lock in two pieces: the open U, and the other end with the keys dangling out of it.
I know how two people ride on one bike. We used to do it all the time when I was in Santo Domingo. Our family had one bike and my cousins and I always had to double up and take turns as kids.
I sit on the seat and balance my feet on the bolts of the back wheel.
Heidi stands on the pedals. But she has less experience riding someone else and hasn’t found her center of gravity. She makes a slow start and the bike wobbles.
I look over my shoulder, and the security guard is gaining on us.
The street has a slight incline uphill, not enough that you’d notice if you were walking, but enough to notice on a bike—especially riding with two people. Heidi is strong, but she’s having a hard time getting up to speed.
The security guard is about a car length behind us. He reaches for something in his pocket. A radio? Who’s he gonna call? A cell phone? Would he call the crooked cop? But then I realize it’s a Taser! He’s gonna tase us?
Heidi begins to pedal a little faster, but he speeds up and nearly catches us. He has the Taser out in front of him and his arm is reaching toward me through the air. But before he can do it, I throw the U part of the U-lock at his Taser hand and he cries out, the Taser flying out of his grip into the street.
The traffic is stopped on the other side of the intersection, but the light will be changing soon. He has to decide between saving his precious Taser and catching us.
He scowls at me, and I hold up the other half of the U-lock like a weapon. I don’t know if that’s what changes his mind, but he calls us a name that I won’t repeat and runs into the street to retrieve his Taser.
Heidi finally gets some speed going and then we’re in motion, hurrying away from him.
“Are you okay?” she asks.
“Yes,” I say. “But you’re gonna need a new lock.”
I SIT FROZEN in my seat. Everybody knows now that we don’t have papers. What’s gonna happen now? Senator Samuelson threatened Mr. Howell, and hopefully that will keep him from calling Immigration and Customs Enforcement on us. But I haven’t even had a chance to check in with Heidi or Davion.
I keep my eyes on the back of the seat in front of me—a cream-colored faux leather. I’m sitting on one end of the backseat of the Prius, and Davion is on the other. The senator sits between us, so frail and small; she’s almost like a child.
She sits with her eyes closed, only opening them briefly to use Davion’s phone to make a call. My brain is jumbled, and I can’t pay attention to any of her words. The effort seems to exhaust her, and she slumps back afterward.
We ride in silence for a while, and I can feel the panic rising. Have I ruined everything for my family? I feel like I might start screaming. The blood pounds in my ears. I need to get out of this car. Run and tell Mami. Make a plan to run to another city. Somewhere else so Juan Carlos never finds us. Maybe we’ll need to change our names. But we’re getting on the freeway now. I can’t get out. I bite down on the scream and the tears begin to fall. All the panic. All the rage and regret that I’ve put my family at risk, leaking out of my eyes.
Davion reaches across the senator’s lap and holds my hand. For some reason, that only makes me cry harder. But after several highway exits, the tears subside. Suddenly, a long shudder goes through me, and I can feel my body relax a little. I no longer feel like I need to jump out of the car. I don’t know what the future holds for my family, but I’m sitting next to a U.S. senator that I rescued, who is on her way to vote for the Green New Deal. She called us heroic.
Davion squeezes my hand and I wipe my eyes and look up. He has his phone out.
“You all right?” he asks.
“I think we should start,” he says gently. “Okay with you?”
Again, I can only nod.
He puts a gentle hand on the elderly woman’s shoulder. “Senator Samuelson,” Davion says in a soft voice. “Do you think you’re up to answering a few questions?”
“Yes,” she says in little more than a whisper. “I believe so.”
I realize that there are bottles of water in the pocket of the rideshare car, and I pull out one for her. She takes a few sips.
And then, question by question, Davion gets her story on the record. I find myself asking questions, too. And help fill in several blanks in the story.
At the end, the senator tears up a bit. “If it hadn’t been for this young lady, I don’t know what I would have done.”
I hold her hand. “Can you tell me your name?” she asks me. “I want to be sure to give credit where credit is due.”
I shake my head. “Can you—?” I point to Davion’s recorder and can’t think of the words in English.
He turns it off.
“Is it because you’re illegal?” the senator asks.
“Undocumented,” Davion corrects her.
“I don’t—” I say. “Please!” I want to tell them, I would like to remain anonymous. But my mind can’t manage that level of English when I’m scared like this.
“I understand,” the senator says.
We’re pulling into the airport. Davion directs the driver to the area where the private jet is waiting for the senator.
When the Prius drops us off, the senator steps out and embraces a young woman in her twenties, before they whisk the older woman away into a makeshift medical tent.
The young woman walks over to us, wiping her eyes. She wears a neat suit and has her hair back in a bun. “The senator tells me you two are responsible for rescuing her,” she says. “I don’t know how we can ever thank you. I can’t talk now, but here’s my card. I’m her personal assistant.” She hands cards to both of us, then turns to me. “The senator explained that you may need some support in the coming days or weeks. Please, let me know if you need anything.”
“We need a ride home,” I say. “Back to Proctor.”
“Done,” she says. “I’ll have one of our drivers take you.”
“Thank you,” Davion says. “And we also need a reporter we can trust.”
She nods. “Let me see who I can get on the phone,” she says. “I’ll text you.”
They exchange numbers, and the two of us stand there, waiting for the driver.
Davion turns to me. “I’m so sorry I brought Mr. Howell into this.”
“It wasn’t your fault,” I said. “The final decision was mine. I knew I was at risk because I don’t have papers,” I whisper. Hearing myself say the words in English feels like I’m somehow sealing my doom.
Davion shakes his head. “It just means you’re even braver than I thought.”
I shake my head again. “When you’re undocumented, it’s like . . .” I search for the words in English. “Life is a series of impossible choices. I couldn’t just let them hurt an old lady because I was scared. But if my name gets out there, I won’t be safe.”
“I get it,” Davion says. “I’m really sorry.”
“Excuse me,” a Black man in a dark suit comes over to us. “The two of you need a ride back into Proctor?”
“Yeah,” Davion says.
“Where in town are you headed?” the man asks.
Davion looks at me.
“Meet up at your house?” I ask.
He nods and gives the man his address.
The two of us sit in the back of the senator’s huge SUV. Now that she’s on board with the Green New Deal, I hope she’ll start using cars with better fuel efficiency.
“It’s gonna be okay,” Davion says to me and he takes my hand and squeezes it. I squeeze back.
I expect him to let go, but he holds on and I do, too.
With my free hand, I text Mariluna and Heidi where we’re meeting up.
Meanwhile, Davion gets a text from the senator’s assistant with the name of a reporter from the Miami Herald. He calls and they begin talking.
My phone rings, and it’s Mariluna with a story about rescuing Heidi and hitting a security guard with a bike lock to keep from getting tased.
When we’re a couple blocks from Davion’s house, he asks the driver to let us out.
“Why not your house?” I ask as we step down from the big vehicle.
“I wanted to ask you something,” he says. “In private.”
“Okay,” I say. “Talk slowly.”
He did better than talk slowly. He spoke in Spanglish. “Yo quiero include you in my article I’m writing. Porque what you did esta very importante. El articulo no will be complete without your contribution. Podemos find a way to protect you pero also tell the truth about it?”
I burst out laughing.
“Yes,” I say. “We can find a way.”
“One more thing,” he says. “My mom is an attorney. She doesn’t specialize in immigration law, but maybe . . . maybe she could help?”
“Yeah,” I say. “We need all the help we can get.”
For the rest of the day, our story is breaking news. The senator’s people confirm that the Sunrise Movement videos on the internet of a woman being wheeled from an Orlando senior facility are indeed of the kidnapped senator being rescued.
Davion starts working with a New York Times reporter on an article about the kidnapping. It will include Davion’s exclusive interview with the senator and a photo of the four of us teens.
Davion takes the photo himself on his iPhone. Mariluna and I have on hats and shades and bandanas over our faces. Nothing can identify us, except Mariluna has on a hand-painted shirt she says she never wears in real life because it’s a work of art.
In the article, the senator thanks the young people and the Sunrise Movement. True to her word, she keeps her mouth shut about Mr. Howell. But Davion doesn’t. He names names. From his journalism teacher to Republican senator Martin Miller. The media reports that Miller has been taken in for questioning by the FBI.
“They’ll probably let him go without charging him,” Heidi says.
“Yeah, but Senator Samuelson will make sure they investigate,” Davion says. “I bet they’ll find some concrete evidence tying him to the crime.”
Later that night, after Davion’s mom gets home, she sits down with me and Mariluna. She asks us each for a dollar, because that makes her our official attorney.
We each explain our situation, and she asks if we want to tell our moms. She advises us to, but we both say we want to wait and see what happens. We share the phone number for the senator’s assistant, so she has it, in case anything happens.
THE NEXT DAY—Monday—Samuelson stands up in the Senate to make her speech for the Green New Deal.
“Not only will I be a champion of the Green New Deal, but also immigration reform. In addition to all the other contributions that immigrants have made to our country, these two young women may have literally saved the planet.”
Hearing her say that, I feel a little safer, but I still don’t tell Mami.
It’s so weird. The day after that—Tuesday—we just go to school, as usual. Davion and Heidi get a ton of attention, but Mariluna and I just sit with her friends as usual.
“Hey Yamila,” Mariluna says. “Can we talk about something other than your boyfriend today? It seems like we’re in a historical moment, you know?”
“Yeah,” Caridad says. “I was reading about the Green New Deal and it’s kind of amazing. I might join Heidi’s group.”
Later, Davion asks me to come by the journalism classroom after school. I tell Mariluna I’ll be checking in with him before coming over to her house.
I feel a little shy when I step into the room. It’s my first time alone with him since the ride from the airport.
When I walk in, he’s typing intently on his laptop. The small dreadlocks on the top of his head are pointing toward me. He looks up and smiles.
I walk over to his table and drop my backpack on the chair.
“So,” I ask. “What’s up?”
He sets an envelope on the table in front of me. “This is for you,” he says.
I open it up and it’s a check, made out to “cash” for several thousand dollars. I say a curse word in Spanish that I am glad he doesn’t understand.
“What is this . . . money?” I ask.
“The reward money for finding the senator,” he says.
“But we all did it together,” I say.
“Then share it with the others,” he says.
“What about you?” I ask.
“I don’t need it,” Davion says. “As a junior in high school, I had a story on the front page of the New York Times. They offered me an internship this summer. You’ve basically made my career for life. Please, take the money.”
He’s looking at me with his big brown eyes. I worry that we’ll get in trouble some way, but I also think about what Mami and I could do with the money. We could definitely get that apartment in Mariluna’s building, couldn’t we?
“Okay,” I say. “But we don’t have a bank account.”
“Do you need cash?” he asks.
“Probably a money order,” I say. “Maybe to a landlord. Can you wait till I have all the information?”
“Sure,” he says. “Take as long as you like.”
I take a photo of the check and hand it back to him.
“So,” I ask, changing the subject. “What are you working on?”
“I’m interviewing Heidi about her plans for the new student environmental club,” he says. “Apparently, they’re meeting after school tomorrow to celebrate the passing of the Green New Deal.”
“I’ll be there,” I say.
“Yeah,” he says. “I think I’m going, too. I hear all the cool kids will be there.”
I laugh. “We will,” I say. “See you there.”
“In addition to all the other contributions that immigrants have made to our country, these two young women may have literally saved the planet.”
Just before dinnertime at Mariluna’s that night, her phone rings several times.
“Aren’t you going to get that?” I ask.
“It’s nothing,” she says.
I flip over the phone. It says “Caribbean Airlines.” I look up and meet Mariluna’s eyes.
The phone stops ringing.
“Aren’t you at least going to call back?”
Mariluna looks from me to her aunt.
“Titi,” she says. “Amandys and I are going downstairs to get the laundry.”
The two of us walk-jog down to the laundry room. Mariluna speed-dials Caribbean Airlines’ phone number for video chat.
The next thing I know, a girl with short hair and bright brown eyes is grinning up from the phone, looking straight at Mariluna. Mariluna is grinning right back.
Then she introduces us. “Amandys,” she says. “This is my girlfriend, Luz.”
“It’s great to meet you,” Luz says. “Are you the other girl in the newspaper photo?”
“Yeah,” I say. “Mariluna told you about the photo?”
“She texted it to me with no caption or anything,” Luz said. “But I recognized Lulu’s shirt. I made it for her.”
“Lulu?” I ask.
“Don’t start with me,” Mariluna says.
“We’re both Lulu,” Luz says. “Luz and Luna.”
“Wow,” I say. “That is extra cute.”
“So you’re Amandys,” Luz says. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“I have heard very little about you,” I say. “She wouldn’t even let me know your name and that you were an artist till today.”
Luz smiles. “Lulu is a very private person,” she says. “And I respect that.”
“Me, too,” I say. “I’m just glad she trusts me to let me meet you.”
“And in the summer, I look forward to meeting you in person,” she says.
“Me, too,” I say. “Maybe by then Lulu will let you meet a few more of our friends.”
“I hope so,” she says.
Since we’re finally alone, I take a moment to tell her about the reward money that Davion is going to give us. She shrieks out loud and another tenant doing laundry gives us a dirty look.
Mariluna claps her hand over her mouth and jumps up and down.
“I know just what I’m gonna do,” she says. “Give most of it to Mami to help out.”
“And what else?” I ask.
“Get a ticket to Puerto Rico to visit Luz for Christmas!”
As if in response to this idea, Mariluna’s phone lights up.
“Caribbean Airlines” has sent a photo of the cover of the New York Times and a heart-eyes emoji.
“Can you text me that photo?” I ask. “Not the emoji, just the picture.”
“Sure,” she says. “Why?”
“I’m gonna show it to my mami tonight,” I say.
“You’re gonna tell her?” Mariluna asks.
I nod, thinking about the money Davion offered. I won’t tell Mariluna yet about the possible apartment. I don’t want to get her hopes up.
Later that night, when Mami and I are walking back from Mariluna’s, she tells me about the drama that happened at the senior facility.
“I know, Mami,” I say.
“You read about it?” she asks.
“No,” I say. “I—I was one of the teens.”
“You what?” For a minute, her face flashes with rage. Like she’s ready to yell or maybe even raise her hand to me. “I told you to stay out of that.”
“Mami,” I say. “It’s okay. It’s better than okay. We passed the Green New Deal.”
“You can’t get caught up in this country’s politics,” she says. “We need to stay focused on work and survival.”
“I’m going to get a bunch of money,” I say.
“Was there a reward?” she asks. “You can’t interact with the police or anything like that. Amandys, I’m telling you, we could get deported.”
“It’s not from the police,” I say. I explain where the money came from. And how much it is.
Mami uses the same curse word I did.
“We could get that apartment,” I say. “And the senator knows it’s me. She’s introducing an immigration reform bill that would help families like us.”
“Don’t get your hopes up,” she says. “This country is really racist.”
“I know,” I say. “But if we can pass the Green New Deal, we can pass other changes, too.”
“Ay, Amandys,” she says. “It scares me when you dream so big.”
“I know,” I say. “But you’ll need to get used to it.”
THE NEXT DAY, after school, I meet with Mariluna and her friends from lunch, Davion, Heidi, and over a hundred other kids for the environmental club.
Heidi stands up on the quad with a bullhorn. “I just want to thank everyone for coming. And first off, I want to say that we’re changing our name from the ‘environmental club’ to the ‘climate justice club.’”
There’s a burst of applause.
“Yes, we’ll keep supporting campus cleanups and moving toward zero waste, but right now, we need big solutions to the climate crisis at the level of policy, not just individual acts like recycling. And the Green New Deal is a good start, but we need to push further to end our dependence on fossil fuel, cut the carbon footprint of the military, and make sure that in the implementation no workers are left behind. And I’m going to use some of my reward money to support grassroots efforts in frontline communities right here in Florida. We also need to make sure that we look at climate justice internationally. And to do that, I’m gonna invite up a few speakers. First up is Mariluna Contreras from our very own school.”
The bullhorn has a detachable mic with a curlicue cord, and Heidi continues to hold the bullhorn up with one hand and holds the mic for Mariluna with the other.
“My family came here from Puerto Rico in 2018 because Hurricane Maria devastated our family. It destroyed our apartment, and worst of all, it led to my father’s death. He was caught in a flood and sustained injuries that he died of later.”
She’s reading off a paper, and her hand shakes a little.
“We came to Florida as refugees, with nothing more than the clothes on our back and grief in our hearts. But the worst part of coming to this country is when people looked at us with pity, like it was a shame what had happened, but there was nothing they could do. Hurricanes, after all, are natural disasters. But Hurricane Maria was anything but natural. Because of climate change, water temperatures are rising, and storms are getting stronger and slower moving. They hover over islands and cause exponentially more damage. The combination of the climate crisis and the crisis of colonization—the United States has been colonizing Puerto Rico for more than 120 years—left the island defenseless, and the president at that time did next to nothing to help.”
“He threw paper towels at people,” a young guy yells from the crowd.
“But it’s not just that president,” she says. “It’s every president. And it’s not just Puerto Rico, it’s the relationship that the U.S. has with the whole Caribbean. From tourism to the military to the way corporations exploit our environment and our workers. And this is true throughout the Global South. So, it’s time to talk about a Green New Deal, not just for the U.S., but the whole world.”
The crowd cheers, and Mariluna hands the mic back to Heidi.
“Thank you!” she says. “Our next speaker is from the local Sunrise Movement, . . .” She introduces the Pacific Islander girl who helped block Mr. Howell back at Shady Orchards.
As she talks about the impact of the climate crisis on her homeland, Mariluna walks over to me.
“How did I do?” she whispers in Spanish.
“You were amazing,” I say.
Davion comes up on the other side of me. “So,” he says. “Two weeks ago, did you have any idea that you’d be joining the environmental club at school?”
“The climate justice club,” Mariluna corrects him.
“Nope,” I say. “Two weeks ago, I didn’t have any friends. But now I know that this is my crew here in the U.S. There’s a lot of work to do, and it’s going to take all of us.”
Interested in more?
Read Seven Questions for the Author: The Mystery Woman in Room Three.